So what’s it all about?
Holi is a festival of colours which generally falls on a full moon in March. It is a festival of love and unity and celebrates the triumph of good over evil and the welcoming of Spring. Everyone is invited to take to the streets to play, chase and colour each other with dry powder and coloured water.
There are many legends behind the celebration of holi. Here is probably the most well-known and the one I always remember…
Long ago there was a powerful king named Hiranyakashyapu, he had a son, Prahlad – a holy spirit and devoted to God. But Prahlad’s devotion enraged Hiranyakashyapu and he planned to kill him. He asked his sister Holika, who was immune to fire, to sit in fire taking Prahlad in her lap. Fortunately Prahlad, who was blessed by God, was saved and Holika was burnt to ashes. This gave birth to the festival of holi.
The build up
Working as volunteers in Bangalore, my housemates and I had the weekend off and decided to escape the city for the Holi celebrations. Bonfires were already being lit on the eve of Holi as we travelled by overnight train (one of the best ways to travel across India) to the town of Hospet, in northern Karnataka. Arriving in early morning we made our way by rickshaw to the village of Hampi.
Set in a surreal boulder-strewn landscape on the banks of the Tungabhadra river and surrounded by the ancient ruins and temples of the Hindu Kingdom of Vijayanagar, it seemed like the perfect place to experience the real Holi.
We checked into our very basic hostel, no hot water (and no electricty that morning), unphased we were here for holi, nothing else seemed to matter. So we dumped our stuff in our rooms, got ready and headed out on to the street.
A bit unsure which direction to head in, our first clue was a kitten, perched on a wall with a sprinkling of purple powder on its nose. And then we saw him, a little boy covered in an intense purple powder, he saw my friend Chris’ ridiculously white t-shirt and ran towards us and so it began!
Within 5 minutes I was purple, then I was pink, yellow, blue and then as all the colours mingled together a dark purplish brown. Some colours were stronger than others (the pinks and yellows especially took a few days to completely come off)!
Our now muddy procession wove its way to the river where everyone was invited to wash away their colours, along with their worries and welcome the spring and new beginnings.
It was a wonderful day and an experience I will never forget!
If you would like to experience the real Holi, here are my top tips:
1 Check your dates Holi is a Spring festival, usually taking place at the end of February or March so its best to check for the exact dates each year.
2 Choose a good location My advice is to join celebrations in a small town or village, for a welcoming, safe and friendly atmosphere. Unfortunately festivities in the big cities can get a bit rough and ready!
3 Know your colours Depending on their ingredients, some colours will stain, I found the pink and yellow especially! I was still pink for atleast 2 days after but so was everybody else so it didn’t really matter! I learnt after it’s a good idea to rub hair oil or coconut oil into your skin beforehand, to prevent the color from absorbing.
4 Be prepared to get soaked Every bit of you is going to get covered in coloured powder and water, so embrace it! Wear a light t-shirt like my friend Chris and take it home as a permanent reminder of a wonderful festival!
5 Watch out for the Bhang Usually in the form of a sweet drink made from cannabis leaves and other herbs, its intoxicating and very popular with young men in India. So safety first – if you plan on going out into the streets on Holi, try to go early in the morning and be back in your hotel by midday, women especially – before the men get too inebriated.